March 08, 2016 Articles

4 Ways to Capitalize on Internships During Your 1L Summer

Your 1L summer is a great time to gain a broader perspective of the legal field and explore your interests.

By Rachita H. Bhatt

One of the best aspects of law school is the opportunity to engage in meaningful internship and clinical experiences. While most students have a clearer vision of the field or career they expect to pursue after their 2L summer, the 1L summer can be a bit more daunting. However, it is also the time when students can explore their interests by participating in multiple internships and gain a broader perspective of the legal field. Here are four ways to capitalize your 1L summer.

Intern for a Judge
One of the most rewarding ways to spend 1L summer is to intern for a judge. Though judges hire full-time law clerks for one- or two-year terms, many welcome the assistance of summer interns who are currently matriculated at a law school. These internships are commonly unpaid but they provide substantial experience, particularly for students who think they may want to pursue a career in litigation. Students have the chance to meaningfully contribute to research assignments, assist with drafting memoranda and opinions, and observe various stages of motion practice. These opportunities exist at both the state and federal levels.

In particular, the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP), led by the American Bar Association’s Section of Litigation, provides opportunities to students who are members of racial and ethnic groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession, as well as students with disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. JIOP provides valuable insight into how trial and appellate courts truly work by allowing students to research real issues; analyze case law; draft bench memoranda, opinions, and orders; and confer with both judges and attorneys on various legal issues.

Clerk for a Law Firm
Many students choose to pursue summer associate positions with law firms. This experience can vary based on the size of the firm and the practice area—i.e., transactional versus litigation—but ultimately, the opportunity will help to develop one’s skills in research, writing, and communicating. Additionally, students clerking for a law firm often gain an understanding of billable hours and are exposed to the various facets of private and corporate law practice.

Smaller law firms offer students the ability to work closely with a small group of attorneys and staff, and may even offer greater responsibility depending on the firm’s resources. This means that students may wear many hats (e.g., intern, receptionist, and other administrative tasks) while interning for a small law firm—an experience that can be very rich if the student is considering setting up a solo practice after law school. The intern experience at large law firms is typically organized into a structured program lasting anywhere from six to eight weeks. Throughout that time, students generally rotate among a few practice areas to get their feet wet and work on a few cases. The student’s work experience typically consists of conducting research, drafting interoffice memoranda, and even shadowing attorneys in court.

Assist a Professor with Research
A great way to get more involved within your law school and explore a career in academia is to seek an opportunity as a research assistant with a professor. These opportunities can be difficult to obtain, so it is important to develop a good relationship with your professor early on in the school year. It also helps to be successful in the class and express particular interests in the subject matter. Being a research assistant is incredibly rewarding because it allows for the sharpening of research skills, development of writing skills, and mastery of various citation methods. This role also exposes you to other members of the faculty, which can be helpful if you want to pursue more research opportunities down the road. Assignments run the gamut and can involve drafting language for articles, writing footnotes for various casebooks, developing lesson plans, or assisting the professor with other scholarly inquiries. Many students are able to work remotely as research assistants and are often able to set their own work schedule.

Volunteer for a Public Interest Group
Finally, a growing number of students, particularly millennial generation students, are seeking meaningful opportunities in which they not only can develop themselves but also can contribute to the greater good. Opportunities supporting the public interest such as volunteering at a law school clinic, interning at a local nonprofit, or working at an organization that represents marginalized individuals can be fulfilling and mutually beneficial for the student and the organization. Opportunities like these provide hands-on experience, as most of the organizations in this category are short-staffed. Additionally, students gain advocacy skills, which are transferrable to future opportunities.

These are just a few examples of potential opportunities a 1L student can explore. The most important thing is to check with your career services office, law school alumni, and peers to ensure that the selected opportunity will allow for development of target skills that can be leveraged for future opportunities.

Keywords: litigation, Judicial Intern Opportunity Program, JIOP, judicial internship, law firm clerkship, research assistantship, public interest group volunteer

Rachita H. Bhatt – March 8, 2016